The 28 wooden horses of the carousel at Chippewa Park have probably been ridden for millions of miles, said Donna Gilhooly, co-chair of the carousel restoration committee.
Built in 1915 by the C.W. Parker Company, the carousel is one of only three left in the world.
“It is an important part of our collective memory, it’s part of who we are as a community,” said Gilhooly.
For the last six months the restoration committee has been working to raise funds and awareness for the preservation of the functional work of art that Don Rusnak, MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River, calls, “a treasure in our region.”
On Saturday, Rusnak said $100,000 from FedNor under the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program will go towards the complete restoration of the carousel.
Another $100,000 has been committed by the City of Thunder Bay with an additional $100,000 for the project being put in the city’s yet-to-be-approved 2018 budget.
As a boy, Rusnak said he rode the carousel many times with his brothers.
“We went to Chippewa Park all the time,” said Rusnak, adding that being able to make the funding announcement was “extremely special.”
“We need to support it,” said Rusnak “We need to reinvest in it and re-imagine it to make sure future families can enjoy what I enjoyed when I was a kid. I know I’m going to bring my kids there this summer.”
The carousel was purchased by the City of Fort William in 1935 for $1,750. It wasn’t until 1980 they realized what a rare thing it was when Gilhooly took some people from the Royal Ontario Museum on a tour of the park and they became excited when they saw the carousel.
After a folk art expert appraised the carousel, Gilhooly said they were able to get the city to designate it as a heritage structure.
“It was that moment on that we realized what we had here was very significant,” said Gilhooly.
Over the years, Gilhooly said the crews at Chippewa Park have done an amazing job of keeping the carousel up and running.
“The horses have been stripped in the past, they’ve been glued, they’ve been fibreglassed, painted and nailed,” said Gilhooly. “That has kept it operating but that all has to be undone and put back together in a historically accurate way which will preserve it for the future.”
With guidance from Lisa Parr, a renowned carousel expert, Gilhooly said the bulk of the restoration work will be done in Thunder Bay by local craftspeople.
Work on restoration has already begun on 11 of the horses, with nine completely stripped, one 50 per cent stripped and another standing by.
“We are going to need close to $1 million to restore the entire carousel,” said Gilhooly. “I know that sounds like a lot of money, but it is a very intricate process, it’s real craftsmanship kind of work, plus the electrical needs to be repaired, the mechanical, the roof, it’s a major, major project.”
Gilhooly said they will be announcing a fundraising campaign in January that they hope will be wrapped up by the end of next year.
“I don’t think there’s a kid who grew up here since the 1930s that hasn’t gone to Chippewa Park and had a favourite horse to ride on,” said Gilhooly. “You don’t want to throw away what’s important and rare in the community. It’s kind of like an interactive museum, the carousel.”